The 1799 Campaign in Italy: Battle of Magnano
Armée d'Italie Situation 5 April 1799
"Malheur a l’homme en place, qui dans sa carrière
French Army HQ at Isola della Scala
Moreau HQ at Settimo (Moreau - April 4) then at Magnano village
Commander in Chief: Général Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer
Schérer gathered his adjutants in the morning of April the
4th at Settimo di Buttapietra, the Moreau’s HQ. The plan was
again changed because the proposed passage of the Adige at Albaredo
was impossible. The river had flown out over its banks in many points.
Now they talked about a new direct attack to Verona breaking the
defences at Porta Nuova. The French army was scattered along the
swampy banks of the Tartaro creek. The right wing that time was formed
with Victor and Grenier, the left wing was still assigned to the
battered Sérurier, the centre (Hatry and Montrichard) would
deploy in front of the
Chief-of-Staff: Général de Brigade Louis François
Félix Musnier de la Conserverie
Pontonniers - 2 Companies
Tactically, the French demonstrated greater ability to get ready in the short period, but also a greater indiscipline: that’s true considering that the soldiers of two divisions, Hatry and Victor, were substantially disordered after the first successes, compromising the results achieved until that point and not being able to stop the Austrian offensive return. Schérer’s conduct appeared mostly insufficient: he never was master of the battle, he did not succeed to coordinate movements of his divisions neither communicated with his adjutants preferring to remain in the middle of the combats, more like a medieval warlord than a chief; so, instead, in a circumstance where it was necessary to have a general that observd the battle, far away from the first line, so he could have had a global vision of the events.
The Left Wing
Division du Tyrol General Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier
Serurier received the order to advance only at 9:30 a.m. on April 5. The order stated that his division had to occupy Villafranca. At 10.00 a.m. Sérurier moved forward the Piedmontese infantry with 2 guns. At 10.30 a.m. he was attacked on his right flank by General Döller’s troops but the Austrian attack was repulsed. Leaving Povegliano Sérurier formed two columns which advanced through Isola Alta and Alpo stopping in front of Dossobuono in order to cover the Piedmontese, engaged on the left flank. Behind the Tartaro Dam two Gyulai battalions and one 6 pounder gun made a heavy fire barrage, blocking the French. Successively charged by a Karacsaj squadron, the French withdrew until Isola Alta, entrenching among some house-farms. Isolated and without orders, Sérurier, attacked again at 3.00 p.m. re-capturing Isola Alta and taking prisoner a Croat unit, which was trying to encircle them by the Vigasio road. During this attack he took again the control of the Tartaro bridge. The Karacsaj counter-charges blocked all movement. In the evening Sérurier was able to occupy Villafranca, which was suddenly abandoned by Gottesheim troops.
Adjudants-généraux: Pierre-Joseph Guillet and Leonard-Nicholas Becker comte de Mons
HQs at Vigasio
AvantGarde (Brigade) Chef-de-brigade Louis Garreau
Brigade Général Jean-Baptiste Meyer
3rd Line Reserve Brigade
The French Central Position
The five other divisions arrived, in the meantime, in their new
positions. The center was Isola della Scala, a division in reserve
on its line; two divisions under Moreau on the left side, occupying
Part of the battleground of that lands was almost surrounded by the Adige, like an island. On right bank of this river, was a plain which extended from the Montebaldo peak until Villa-Franca, Azzano, Magnano, San-Giacomo and Legnago. The nothern part of this plain was a slightly rough ground, with an incredible network of orchards and vineyards, of which the eye could not discover the end. The stony ground made it possible to limit all the properties with small dry stonewalls, that formed, around the villages, a maze easily adapted for defensive actions. South of Magnano, the lower ground, was crossed by an infinite pattern of small brooks which flooded into the Tartaro and Menago creeks. This plain was cut by a multitude of ditches and irrigation canals, whose edges were protected by sandy dams. The military deployments was very difficult there, maybe impossible; there the cavalry was more embarrassing that useful; artillery was hard to move.
Army Center - General de Division Jean Victor Marie Moreau
HQ Settimo (then Magnano)
Moreau advanced his two divisions from Buttapietra to Scudo d’Orlando, a small hamlet with a large walled-farm near Tomba, where 5 battalions were deployed with the heavy artillery. They began an useless bombardment (from a distance of 800 m). Quickly evaluating the situation Moreau decided to act without waiting Scherer’s orders. At 11.00 a.m. Montrichard took Scudo d’Orlando with a bayonet charge without totally clearing Austrian resistance. Into a small group of “cascine” (small country house that in Italy form a little hamlet called Contrada) remained the 1st Battalion Klebek besieged until 1.00 p.m. Behind that houses was Division Zoph. Seeing the problems from the Austrian right, General Prince Hohenzollern gathered a column of 1200 men scattered on a line 5 km long to defend the Dossobuono line. Around 4.00 or 5.00 p.m. the Republicans massed in front of San Massimo redoubt. Heavy rains threatened any moment. Alarmed by the French advance, Kray moved forward the Sommariva Reserve to support Zoph and Hohenzollern while General Zach left Verona at the head of a grenadier battalion to hit the French flank in front of San Zeno.
General Moreau’s Corps formed into two parts: a left wing
(General Hatry) and a right wing (General Montrichard). It had to
move in a northwestern direction, the left towards Sommacampagna
and then San Massimo, the right towards Verona. As told, Moreau decided
to launch his right wing (Montrichard) towards San Massimo in the
attempt to break the Austrian northern lines; however this manoeuver
determined a large gap between the French center and the right wing
(Victor). This had to be filled by Delmas, unluckily still lost in
the swamps. During the eraly hours of the night Moreau was reached
by Musnier who told about the “debacle” of the right
wing and ordered the retreat onto Vigasio for all three division
Left Wing Division General Jacques-Maurice Hatry
Orders: advance to Sommacampagna and then right front against San Massimo
Chief of Staff: Chef-de-brigade Francois-Nicolas Fririon|
Starting from Castel d’Azzano, Hatry made his advance, as ordered, but was delayed by intense skirmisher activity (Zoph Division) with the support of the St. Julien Austrian infantry.
Avantgarde Brigade Jean-Baptiste Solignac
Brigade Henri-François-Marie Charpentier
Right Wing Division General Joseph Elie Desiré Perruquet de Montrichard
Orders: advance north towards Sommacampagna (changed in advance towards Verona - at Scudo d’Orlando)
Brigade Generals: Partounneaux, Gardanne
After the attack at Scudo d’Orlando also the right division was directed towards San Massimo like Hatry. The approaching march was very slow for the irregular terrain and above all for the Austrian resistance at Dossobuono. The village was taken in the late afternoon (after 5.00 p.m.) so leaving very few opportunities for a French attack against San Massimo, 3 km away. The Austrian counterattack cleared Dossobuono at dusk even as Partounneaux defended the village very strongly. The 9th Chasseurs deployed in line to contain the advance by the Austrians while near San Massimo the French could camp without no troubles other than a short, cold, heavy shower around 9.30 P.M.
Brigade Adj-Général comte Louis Partounneaux
Chef-de-bataillon Louis Dembowski was promoted to chef de la Légion, captain Krolikiewicz was promoted Chef-de-bataillon and Lieutenants Enenti Zefferyn, Reinhold and Modzelewski became Captains. After the battle, the 1st Battalion had orders to cover the division’s retreat.
Brigade General Gaspard-Amédée Gardanne
Reserve Division General Antoine-Guillaume-Maurailhac Delmas
Marched from Sanguinetto to Buttapietra
Adjudant-généraux: Adj. Gen. Jean Baptiste Paul Gastine,
Claude-Antoine chevalier de Préval
Delmas entered the battlefield when Hatry had just begun the artillery fire. However not understanding the suggestions received by Italian countrymen he met along the way, he lost himself between swamps and fields, reaching the front too late around 12.00-1.00 p.m. After having reached Buttapietra, he was attacked by the Austrians avant-guards but, after a short skirmish combat Delmas continued the march towards Magnano. General Scherer now was with him. The battle against Kaim Kolonne was initially successful, but all changed around 5.30 p.m. Following the repulse of the French right wing, a strong Austrian column, led by Generals Kray and Chasteler, came from San Giovanni hitting Delmas on his right flank. The French were pushed back to Buttapietra and engaged until the evening.
Avantgarde Brigade Général Louis-Gabriel Monnet de Lorbeau
Polish Brigade Général Franciszek Ksawery Rymkiewicz
At Magnano around 300 Polish “legionnaires” were killed. Lieutenants Zefferyn and Lysakowski, Cyprien Godebski, brother of those killed on March 26, were severely wounded. Generale Moreau personally witnessed the Polish valour and named Rymkiewicz general-de-brigade, on the battlefield, if his death did not permit it. General Rymkiewicz died some days after for the hard wounds suffered. Before the last breath he had time to say these words “Why Destiny did not allow me to die in my Fatherland?”
In the second battalion was killed Lieutenant Wiaskowski, while Captain Kirkor and Lieutenant Berensdorf were wounded. In the third battalion Captain Daszkiewicz and Lieutenant Paciorkowski died on battlefield. The whole Polish Legion lost about 1000 men (dead, wounded and prisoners). The Adjudant-général Kosinski withdrew with the remnants of the two battalions towards Nogara, where they arrived on April 6, guarding a large artillery train directed to Mantua. At Castellaro, Kosinski had orders from général Delmas to protect the Molinella bridge and to support the division retreat. On April 7, the 2nd battalion marched to Due-Castelli, while Kosinski with the 3rd to Roverbella. When the whole army took position behind Molinella Creek, Kosinski had orders to occupy, on April 8, with that battalion and a French detachment, Rotta-Vecchia, near Marengo and not far from the Mincio towards Castellaro. On 22 germinal (April 11), during the night, the whole army begun again to retreat, so the Polish Legion received the fatal order to reach Mantua to garrison the fortress under général Foissac-Latour.
1st Line Brigade Général Charles-Louis-Dieu Donné Grandjean
2nd Line Brigade Adjudant-Général Claude-Antoinede Préval
Cavalry Brigade Marc-Antoine Beaumont comte de la Bonninière
The Right Wing Disaster
Division de gauche General Claude-Victor Perrin
Orders: move to San Giacomo, San Giovanni and Pozzo. Block southern Verona side.
Chief of Staff: Gén. Jacques Blondeau Adjudants: Adjudant général François Argod
The approach march of the French Right Wing was very slow. Only at 10.00 a.m. the force was concentrated around Raldon. They advanced north in four columns engaging the Austrians at 11.00 a.m., south of Pozzo. The battle began against Austrian infantry from Regiments 28 and 24. Deployed with thick ranks, the Austrians, were an easy target for musket and gun fire. The IR 28 were soon disordered, retreating “over” the IR 24 and a cavalry duel between Austrians Light Dragoons and French-Piedmontese begun. Around 12.00 hours the whole ercandin column was defeated and retreating: the field marshal died on the battlefield. Victor advanced against San Giacomo and took the hamlet. Around 16.00 p.m. Kray counterattacked leaving the Lusignan Reserve to harass the left flank of Victor and leading a reinforcements group to the assault the central point of the French line, where the two divisions linked together. Victor Division was shocked and begun to withdraw towards Raldon. This left San Giovanni and Grenier’s right uncovered deciding the fate of the whole battle.
Avant-Garde Detachment François Argod
Brigade Général Jean-Joseph-Magdelaine Pijon (alias Pigeon)
Brigade Général Jacques-Antoine Chambarlhac de Laubespin
Death of General Pijon
The agony of the Republican right wing concluded shortly before evening with the yield of the entire 56e line demi-brigade, episode on which we have two opposite versions. According to Jomini, the brigade found Villafontana already occupied by enemy units that had come down from Vallese; its commander, General Pijon, one of the heroes of the first campaign of Italy , gave immediate orders to conquer the town with the bayonet. The action was however a failure and the soldiers, all totally demoralized, broke from their ranks and fled killing those officers who tried to rally units, and during these dramatic instants Pijon was mortally hit. It is not clear if from a friend or enemy bullet. According to Gachot the matter went in very different way: the brigade found Villafontana already occupied, but it put their weapons on the ground without shooting a single shot. At this point Pijon tried - after having collected a gun - to open a passage between the enemy rows. The general fell finally mortally hurt. The surrender of the 56e was the last event of the day; the incoming of the darkness allowed the French units, that was not able to rally in a minimum of order, to continue the withdrawal until Isola della Scala and therefore to camp beyond the Tartaro. The Austrians occupied Casalbergo and pushed some patrols until Isola della Scala.
Division de droit General Paul Grenier
Orders: move north towards Verona from Mazzagatta-Villafontana area
Adjudant-généraux: count baron de Quesnel du Torpt , Chef George Kister
General Grenier slowed march the right wing. In the early hours of April, 5 his division was still moving from the area Villafontana – Mezzagatta. At 10 a.m. he reached the Raldon area where he established contact with Victor. After the Pozzo battle Grenier drove his troops against San Giovanni and conquered the town. During the Austrian counterattack of the afternoon Grenier left San Giovanni retreating to Raldon. The division had to retreat towards Raldon, after having lost its avant-gard. It rallied behind the channel, a half-league from Raldon. There it started a sharp bombardment to give Victor the time to slip by on Mezzagatta.
Right Wing – Brigade Jean-Dominique Compans
Left Wing – Brigade
François-Jean-Baptiste baron de Quesnel du Torpt
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2007
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